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Every year, millions of people are released from incarceration, and the vast majority—about 9 million individuals—exit from local jails. Within this population, recidivism rates are high, resulting in a damaging cycle of incarceration, release, and reincarceration. Recidivism harms local communities and places a tremendous burden on local governments trying to maintain public safety and manage costs.
Local governments spent an estimated $109 billion on criminal justice in 2006, a 17 percent increase over the 2003 level and 138 percent more than was spent on criminal justice functions in 1992. These criminal justice expenditures reflect in part the cost of failing to reintegrate individuals returning from our nation's prisons and jails. Many released inmates face serious problems that contribute to the commission of new crimes, including drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, unemployment, and homelessness. Neglecting these issues not only raises criminal justice costs but increases the demand for social services, such as homeless shelter beds and emergency rooms. It also carries social costs that are difficult to quantify, including harm to victims, strain on communities, and hardships imposed on the families and social networks of released inmates.
Focusing on jail reentry is an opportunity for local governments to reduce recidivism and associated costs. Jail reentry initiatives encourage jails, social service providers, and other agencies to work together to identify and address factors that increase the risk that inmates will recidivate. Jail reentry initiatives also focus on changing the behavior of returning inmates and promoting accountability. Such initiatives help local communities strategically deploy limited resources to reduce harm and maximize community benefit.
Local elected officials play a vital role in jail reentry initiatives by bringing diverse stakeholders together in a shared effort with a common mission and vision. Local governments are wellpositioned to coordinate the reentry process. Not only do they operate law enforcement and jails, they run health and human services, housing authorities, workforce development boards, and local schools, which are key partners in any comprehensive reentry effort. Elected officials also have standing with community service providers and faith-based organizations that already provide many of the social services urgently needed by those leaving jail.
Jail reentry initiatives offer numerous benefits for communities in addition to improving outcomes for individual inmates. Jail reentry initiatives have the potential to reduce crime; affect community problems, such as homelessness; and increase public health, safety, and well-being. Reentry initiatives can also improve system performance by increasing coordination and information-sharing among criminal justice agencies, community- based organizations, and other groups. This can reduce duplication of efforts and enhance the impact of existing resources. Taxpayers ultimately reap the benefits of smaller jail populations, reduced need for new jail facilities, and lower costs across the criminal justice system.
Jail reentry initiatives have found support from a broad array of stakeholders, including law enforcement, corrections, social service providers, the faith community, and victims' groups. These groups increasingly recognize their role in the reentry process and are looking to elected officials for support and leadership. Jail reentry initiatives supported by elected officials bring these groups to the table and encourage them to work together to develop effective interventions. By spearheading a cooperative reentry effort, elected officials foster shared responsibility and ensure a common approach to addressing this problem.
This toolkit is designed to help elected officials meet the challenges of addressing jail reentry in their communities. It provides information and tools to improve the jail-to-community reentry process, whether that involves implementing a jail reentry initiative for the first time or expanding an existing initiative.
It is important to note that the toolkit is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to developing a reentry initiative. While we have sought to include the most significant information for elected officials who want to get involved in jail reentry, the reader should treat the toolkit as a starting point rather than a final destination. To this end, we have included a short directory of more extensive and in-depth resources that address the process of implementing a jail reentry initiative as well as specific needs of returning inmates. Many helpful reentry resources covering a wide range of topics are easily accessible online. We encourage readers to access these resources for more information about the topics introduced here, as well as for detailed guidance on the particular challenges their communities may face.
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